,Hong Kong

Hong Kong needs to get ready: Pokémon Go is a sign of things to come

By Anthony McLachlan

Who could have imagined that in 2016, millions of Hong Kongers from 6 to 60 would be walking for kilometers together to find a Ditto, Aerodactyl, or Snorlax? – Yes, I’m talking about some of the hardest-to-find creatures in Pokémon Go, the augmented-reality game that has captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of fans here. Many public parks, formerly deserted in the evenings, are now crammed full of groups of families and friends hoping to catch the next creature. 

Where consumers go, business cannot be far behind. While Nintendo has said that the early success of Pokémon Go has not yet made a significant impact on its bottom line, it is only a matter of time before media companies, theme parks, and advertisers start getting involved to ‘monetise’ this trend. It’s easy to picture Easter Egg treasure hunts in Ocean Park using similar augmented reality concepts, giving a boost to tourism in the city or government-sponsored fitness events to encourage an active lifestyle.

In the short term, the increase in the uptake of augmented reality will blur the lines between the real and virtual worlds even further, bringing with it far-reaching changes in the way society behaves. These changes will present policymakers and law enforcement officials with new, unprecedented challenges.

Going back to Pokémon Go: regulators and telecom operators in the region are even now trying to frame their reaction to the phenomenon. Thailand is making attempts to implement Pokémon ‘zoning’, while the Hong Kong police took a lenient view of the recent Pokémon Go treasure hunt in Central. Meanwhile, telecom companies are viewing augmented reality as the ‘next big thing’ to spur revenues – CSL and 1010 customers have all received free unlimited high-speed data in time for the release of the game in Hong Kong.

However, the true benefits of virtual reality and augmented reality applications extend far beyond gaming. These technologies can provide powerful medical, environmental, and productivity benefits that are especially relevant given Hong Kong’s smart city aspirations. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2030, smart technologies supported by augmented reality, the IoT, autonomous vehicles, and virtual spaces, will reduce the environmental footprint of cities by 50 percent.

But whose responsibility is it to make sure that the adoption of these technologies takes place smoothly?

In the first instance, industry bodies, telecom and network operators, application developers, device makers, and others must work together to define and standardise this new digital era. Through their efforts, the coming years will see industrial and home automation on an unprecedented scale, blurring the real-virtual lines even further as machines begin to communicate and make decisions based on artificial intelligence.

Telecoms operators have the tremendous responsibility for enabling this change by maintaining networks that are reliable and robust enough to transmit data at near-instantaneous speeds, while keeping consumers’ precious data safe. New networking technologies like flexible intelligent bandwidth will help them react to the next big thing in augmented reality and beyond.

However, the most crucial enabler is the regulator. Regulators have the responsibility to create an enabling environment that allows companies and consumers to explore the possibilities of the new era of augmented reality and smart machines.

It is likely that during the process when consumers and businesses learn how to use the technology responsibly, there might be misuse. For example, I was told by a friend that the driver of the taxi he took home from work the other day had three phones mounted on his car’s windscreen and was playing Pokémon Go on all of them. No doubt, reckless, fraudulent, and criminal activity should be curbed through stringent data security guidelines, widespread education, and strict enforcement.

Despite this, it is in everyone’s interest if regulators and the community in general took a ‘light-handed’ approach to emerging technologies and trends such as augmented reality and virtual reality applications. This will create an atmosphere of enablement for Hong Kong’s creative and skilled entrepreneurs and inventors to discover the potential and possibilities of these exciting technologies as they build Asia’s smart city.

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